As long as I made a steady income, I was tithing. There were probably some random baby-sitting gigs where I was paid in cash and failed to give 10%, but for the most part, it was always something I tried to do.
I was fortunate enough to grow up with the example of my parents writing that check on Sunday morning and tossing it in the offering, or giving it to one of us to offer. When my father’s parents were in town, my grandfather would give us each a dollar or quarter or whatever he had so we had something to put in the offering, too. Tithing was normal to us.
Although some may look at my husband’s and my current financial situation and assume it would be crazy to give away 10% of our small weekly checks without even so much as a tax deduction in return (We don’t make enough for it to make financial sense to take the deduction), but it was something we were each committed to before we met and knew it would remain a priority after we were married.
Why do we tithe? To put it simply: because the Bible is clear that we ought to, and that it is Good to do it. Although we can debate all day long about gross income vs. net income, passive vs. active income, and whether we should tithe from our tax refund checks, there are a myriad of examples (in both the Old and New Testaments) that all clearly say that we should give some of what God has given us back to him, to be multiplied by Him for His glory, of which I am a fan.
And this command my husband and I have been following as faithfully as we could. Until July.
This summer we had a clear financial goal: to re-fill our savings account to where it should be. Ever since our season of unemployment this winter, we haven’t been able to quite refill the tank. We had a number, we did the math: we could do it.
But about 6 weeks into the summer, things weren’t going as planned. I wasn’t making as much as I had planned, and we were spending a more than we should have. Blame it on increasing gas and food prices, summer dates, or vacations and staycations, but we (well, more I) panicked.
I wanted to save like mad. I wanted to eat like we were on food stamps, and I wanted to hoard as much much as we could until we hit that number. Like a teething toddler puts everything she can find into her mouth, I put all the money I could find into our savings, whether it was good for me or not.
And in addition to my temporary fear of spending money unnecessarily, I stopped writing tithe checks to our church.
The guilt over not tithing, though almost constant, like a thorn in my flesh, was not as bad as our financial state. Although I stopped writing those checks and did everything I could, we still didn’t reach our goal. If anything, we had less money than at the beginning of the summer. Something had to change.
I am a planner, and as all my family knows, a control freak. But no matter how much planning and stress I put into this savings project, I yielded no results
Finally, I confessed to my husband that the stress we’d both been feeling over this savings goal had also lead me to stop tithing. I said that I just wanted to store everything up that I could find until we hit our mark, and then we could start tithing again.
But this was totally the wrong attitude. God doesn’t want a piece of our extras, he wants our first fruits. God doesn’t just want us to be faithful when we have much, but also when we have little. I felt like an Israelite, when they were wandering in the desert after they left Egypt. God provided manna and quail for them, and told them to take exactly what they needed only. He said if they took too much, out of fear, there would be none the next day; it would be full of maggots by morning. I was storing up too much manna in my tent, out of fear I would be soon cut off, left out in the desert alone by my Father. I was wrong.
Massimo didn’t know we weren’t tithing for a month, and said that of course we needed to give what we’ve been holding back. “I like tithing because it’s like the blind bet in Texas hold ‘em: you don’t have to think about it, you just put it in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your cards are, you just do it.”
I didn’t think that a poker analogy would work, but he was absolutely right: it doesn’t matter about the math. When we’ve been given something from God, our automatic response should be to return a portion to him.
And of course, the next day God reassured me that everything would be fine when I went to the mailbox and got a significant refund check from the electric company and our rebate card from my contacts purchase months earlier. I also got to work an extra few days this month, out of the blue, and after I wrote our over-due tithe checks, we had hit our savings goal!
I can’t control everything, and everything we have is a gift to be given again. It seems counter-intuitive, but by giving more you actually find you have more. Investing in the Kingdom of God is always a sound idea. Keeping it for myself will give me nothing but maggots in my cupboard and a stressful summer. So even though it’s difficult, we have to try.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce…” Proverbs 3:9